Smithsonian Freer Gallery Sackler Gallery National Museum of Asian Art Gallery Guide Art of Buddhism
Kobo Daishi is the posthumous name given to the monk Kukai (774–835), a revered poet and calligrapher who, as founder of the Shingon sect, stands as one of the major forces in the development of Japanese Buddhism. From 804 to 806, Kukai studied in China under the tutelage of Huiguo, the patriarch of Esoteric Buddhism. This scroll is one of a pair that offers an imagined glimpse into Kukai's stay in China. A celebratory banquet convened on the occasion of Kukai's ordination by Huiguo is depicted here. These scrolls are probably part of a larger group that narrates other aspects of Kukai's life.

Huiguo's brand of Buddhism was not many decades removed from its native India and thus contained significant elements of yogic practice as well as rich and complex iconography still fresh with the characteristics of its origins. By stressing the potential for spiritual growth through effective use of iconography, Kukai raises works of religious art to heightened prominence. His influence in the wider area of Heian period (794–1185) aesthetics is considerable.

Taizokai Mandala
detail
Kobo Daishi Zaito - The Life of the Priest Kobo
Kamakura period (1185 – 1333), late 13th century
ink, color, and gold on paper
32.5 x 665.0 x 728.0 cm.
purchase F1966.10
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